Subject of Conrad: a Lacanian reading of subjectivity in Joseph Conrad’s fiction
Jenvey, Brandon John
This thesis examines how the fiction of Joseph Conrad anticipates and enacts the elaborate model of subjectivity that is later formalised in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. While modernist criticism has often utilised the work of post‐structuralism in reading key texts of modernism, the complexity and profundity of the conceptual relationship between Conrad and Lacan has not yet been explored in depth. Conrad’s work captures the impact and influence of emerging transnational capital upon forms of the subject in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Further, his fiction is also sensitive to how nascent global capital structures forms of space that the subject is embedded within in their daily experience. I argue that it is the intricate and finely woven theories of Lacan that are necessary in identifying this area of the novelist’s work, as Lacan’s model contends with both the individual psychic structure of the subject, and, crucially, how the individual is located and constituted within the broader matrix of social reality. Using four of Conrad’s novels from his early period to the end of his major phase, the thesis traces the evolution of the various fundamental modalities of Lacan’s subject across Conrad’s fiction. I examine how Almayer’s Folly offers the key tenets of Lacan’s primary model of the subject of desire, while Lord Jim presents the transition of the subject of desire into Lacan’s later mode of the subject of drive. Subsequently, The Secret Agent is shown to critique the role of rationalism in the structuring of the subject’s consciousness, while, finally, I read Under Western Eyes as a tour de force of Lacan’s four discourses. The deep and fundamental relationship between the two figures’ work attests to their acuity in observing the development of the subject in the twentieth century, while the method of theoretical analysis also, on a wider disciplinary level, suggests and helps to confirm the continued validity of the mode of deep reading in literary interpretation.